Mon. May 29th, 2023

In 1928, while striking for improved working conditions, several Colombian banana workers were killed when the Colombian army opened fire on them.

Caption: A United Fruit Company plantation in Colombia in the early 20th century.

On December 6, 1928, in the small town of Ciénaga, Colombia, a peaceful protest by United Fruit Company workers turned into a bloodbath known as the Banana Massacre. Colombian troops, supported by the company, opened fire on the unarmed workers, resulting in hundreds of deaths and injuries.


Around the turn of the 20th century, the United Fruit Corporation (UFC), an American multinational business, held a near monopoly on the banana market in Latin American countries. The business was known for treating its workers badly, like by paying them low wages, making them work long hours, and putting them in dangerous situations at work. The bulk of the labourers on the large banana plantations that the UFC controlled in Colombia were individuals of Afro-Colombian and indigenous descent. These plantations were located around the Caribbean coast.

Leaders of the worker strike that precipitated the Banana Massacre. From left to right: Pedro M. del Río, Bernardino Guerrero, Raúl Eduardo Mahecha, Nicanor Serrano and Erasmo Coronell.
Photo was recovered from the United Fruit Company archive in Panama.

A strike was called by the employees in 1928 in an effort to seek higher salaries and improved working conditions. Tens of thousands of workers held a peaceful protest in the city of Ciénaga on December 6, where they also gave the company their requests.The employees were unarmed and had no intention of engaging in violent activity during the walkout, but the UFC perceived the strike as a danger to their revenues and requested assistance from the Colombian government.

The Killing Fields:

The government of Colombia dispatched troops to Ciénaga, and those soldiers landed there with help from the UFC. The military, who were equipped with rifles and machine guns, encircled the demonstrators, who were nonviolent, and gave them an ultimatum to disperse or face the consequences. The soldiers opened fire on the unarmed throng when the workers refused to leave, resulting in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of civilians.


Because both the company and the government tried to hide what happened and stopped journalists from going to the area, no one knows for sure how many people were killed.Estimates, on the other hand, vary from 47 to 3,000 fatalities, with many more people injured or jailed.

Memorial statue to the Banana Massacre in Cienaga, Colombia.


Both the social fabric of Colombia and the labour movement were profoundly altered as a result of the Banana Massacre. It exposed the UFC's use of violent tactics as well as the Colombian government's involvement in the violation of workers' rights.The massacre also incited fury among workers and activists all around the country, which resulted in a wave of strikes and rallies that undermined the company's dominant position in the market.

The Banana Massacre is still remembered as a terrible and controversial event in Colombian history. Despite the fact that the United Fruit Company (UFC) has now renamed itself as Chiquita Brands International and claims to have changed its labour policies, the legacy of exploitation and brutality that is associated with the banana business in South America continues to this day.

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